VICENZA, Italy — Lt. Col. Todd Johnston, rear detachment commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, said the pattern has gotten fairly predictable.

Soldiers gather together in small groups to tell war stories about fallen comrades when word of their deaths reaches base.

“This week, stories have been particularly poignant,” he told those gathered in the base chapel to remember three more Sky Soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Larry Rougle, Spc. Hugo Mendoza and Sgt. Joshua Brennan — all members of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment — died last week in Afghanistan.

Rougle, with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan already behind him, was killed by small-arms fire on Oct. 23. The 25-year-old from Utah’s Salt Lake Valley was a scout team leader for the battalion’s Headquarters, Headquarters Company.

“If there was one person who I could have watching my back, my first, second and third choices would be Staff Sergeant Larry Rougle,” said Capt. Matthew Heimerle, once Rougle’s company commander.

Heimerle said the 5-foot-8 Rougle could bench-press 405 pounds and leg-press more than 1,000 pounds, “yet he could still run like it was a marathon. He was a freak.”

Rougle is survived by his daughter, Carmin; parents Ismael and Nancy Rougle of West Jordan, Utah; and a brother, David.

Brennan, serving his second tour in Afghanistan with the brigade, died on Oct. 25. He was on point in a patrol leading his team when enemy forces attacked.

“When you think of the NCO (noncommissioned officer) corps in the Army, you think of a guy like Sgt. Brennan,” said Staff Sgt. Andy Short. “Josh was the type of guy who made everything look easy.”

Brennan, 22, was born in Texas and spent much of his time growing up in Ontario, Ore., with his mother, Janice Gates. He worked part-time at a print shop in high school to help pay for his expenses. Both his mother and father — Michael Brennan of McFarland, Wis. — served in the military. Brennan was planning to use the GI Bill to pay for college. He had tried to leave the military, but was kept in by the Army’s stop-loss policy.

His name was submitted for a Bronze Star after being wounded in the leg in August. He returned to action with his unit after recovering. In addition to his mother and father, he is survived by six siblings.

Mendoza — like Brennan, a member of Company B — was killed in the same battle that took Brennan’s life. He was mortally wounded while fending off insurgents who were trying to take Brennan’s body.

“Doc sacrificed his life to preserve the body of a fallen comrade,” said Staff Sgt. Juan Loza.

Mendoza, 29, grew up in El Paso, Texas, and lived in Glendale, Ariz. He wanted to become a firefighter after his military service ended and planned to use the medical training the military gave him. He was on his first deployment.

He is survived by his parents, Jesus and Sara Mendoza of El Paso; and two brothers, Carlos and Stevie.

Sixteen soldiers based in Vicenza and 19 soldiers from the brigade have died since the deployment began in May.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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